Baseball Weekly Notebook (Apr. 5)
Monday, April 5, 2010

A pair of coaching milestones headline last week's MVC baseball action, as Wichita State's Gene Stephenson tallied his 1,700th career victory, becoming just the second head coach in Division I baseball history to accomplish that feat.  SIU's Dan Callahan also nabbed his 200th career MVC win, becoming just the fifth league coach to don that honor. 

Southern Illinois is riding a five-game winning streak, its longest string of consecutive wins since 2008, while the Bears of Missouri State are winners of three-straight, which ties a season-best streak for Missouri State.

Two Down, Five (or Six) To Go
With two league action weekends now in the books, Wichita State continues to lead the charge with a 5-1 start in Valley play.  Evansville spoiled the Shockers perfect MVC record last weekend, taking the first game in the three-game series.  The Purple Aces enter this week at an even 3-3 in conference play.

Southern Illinois, winners of five-straight games for the first time since 2008, swept last weekend's series with Bradley, improving to 4-2 in league play, while the Braves are still looking for their first MVC victory.

Indiana State won its series at Creighton for the first time since 1992, taking two games from the Bluejays.  Both Creighton and Indiana State sit at an even 3-3 in league play. 

Illinois State (2-1 MVC) and Missouri State (1-2 MVC) took a break from league play last weekend, but will return to action this week.  The Redbirds will travel to Omaha to take on the Jays, while the Bears will take the trip to Peoria, Ill., to meet up with the Braves.

Now That's a Lot of Wins
Wichita State head coach Gene Stephenson won his 1,700th career game on Sunday at Evansville.  He becomes just the second coach in Division I baseball history to reach that milestone, joining Augie Garrido of Texas (1,738 wins).  Stephenson's career record now stands at 1,700-586-3.

Saluki Skipper for 200, Please
Southern Illinois head coach Dan Callahan picked up his 200th career Missouri Valley Conference victory in a 3-1 win over Bradley last Saturday.  He became the fifth coach in league history to reach the milestone and is just one of three active coaches with 200 Valley wins, joining Wichita State's Gene Stephenson (540) and Missouri State's Keith Guttin (296).  Callahan is in his 16th season leading the Salukis.

More Than What You Paid For
So far this season, Missouri Valley Conference teams are 12-9 in non-conference extra-inning games.  Four teams have winning records - Indiana State (3-0), Southern Illinois (3-0), Wichita State (1-0) and Creighton (3-2) - while another two teams have .500 records in non-MVC extra-inning games (Evansville and Illinois State are both 1-1).  Only Bradley (0-4) and Missouri State (0-1) have yet to win an extra-inning game outside of league play.

Two or Less
In 159 non-conference games, 61 games (.384) have been decided by two or fewer runs.  MVC teams are 18-23 (.439) in contests decided by one run and 9-11 (.450) in games decided by two runs.  Four Valley schools have above .500 records in games decided by two or fewer runs - Wichita State (2-0), Indiana State (7-4), Creighton (4-3) and Southern Illinois (4-3).  The other four MVC schools have been on the other end of close games - Missouri State (3-5), Bradley (4-7), Illinois State (1-4) and Evansville (2-8) - winning fewer than half of games decided by two runs or less.   

It's About Time
Indiana State's series win against Creighton last weekend was their first series win over the Jays in Omaha since 1992.  In their previous three trips to face CU, the Sycamores had come back with ten losses and no wins.

Fireworks on Display
Missouri State's power display versus Oral Roberts on Sunday represented something not done at Missouri State since 2004.  The Bears bombed six home runs and tallied 41 total bases, identical to the numbers put up in a 2004 win at Saint Louis. Both numbers were Hammons Field records for MSU.

Against the Field
The MVC holds a winning record against nine leagues in non-conference play (Atlantic-10, Colonial, Great West, Mid-American, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southland, SWAC and Summit) and at least a .500 mark against another three (Big Sky, Big Ten and Horizon). 

Against the 2009 NCAA Field
The Valley has won 12 games against 2009 NCAA Tournament teams, as the 12 wins have come from four teams - Bradley, Creighton, Missouri State and Wichita State. 

The Braves have five wins against the 2009 NCAA field - two versus Army and three against Tennessee Tech.  The Bluejays have tallied three wins versus 2009 Tournament teams - one each against Kansas State, Minnesota and Sam Houston State - while the Bears have three wins against last year's tournament field, all against Oral Roberts.  The Shockers have the final victory against Washington State.

This week, Valley schools have a chance to pick up three more wins against 2009 NCAA Tournament teams, as Wichita State travels to Oklahoma State, while Missouri State hosts the Cowboys in mid-week matchups.  Creighton will also host a Wednesday night matchup with Kansas.

Quick Starts Crucial                                                  
If your team has plans on sitting atop the MVC standings heading into the league's postseason tournament, you might want to get off to a good start as every team that has won the MVC regular season has won at least 16 games since 2005, the first year of a 24-game conference schedule. 

In fact, only twice since 2005 has a team with a MVC winning percentage as low as .750 won the regular season title (2005, CU, 17-7; 2006, UE, 16-8).

Tight Races                                                
Since the start of the 24-game conference schedule in 2005 (three-game series), the top two places in the regular-season standings have been separated by just one game in every year except one - in 2009 when first-place Missouri State had a two-game lead over second-place Indiana State heading into the State Farm MVC Baseball Tournament.    

Missouri State is looking to become just the second Valley school to win back-to-back regular-season titles, as Wichita State is the only league school to have ever accomplished this feat.  The Shockers won back-to-back titles in 2007-2008, were winners of 10 consecutive regular-season championships from 1991-2000 and also won three straight titles from 1987-89.

Deja' Vu
Wichita State has been the league's most dominant team since the inception of a conference schedule in 1984.  Since then, the Shockers have place in the top three of the regular season standings in 25 of the 26 seasons - the only season Wichita State did not finish in the top three was in 1984, the year the league first adoped a conference schedule.

Missouri State has placed in the league's top three in 13 of 19 seasons, including 11 of the last 14 seasons. 

Creighton has also finished in the top three 13 times - in the Bluejays' 26 seasons of league play. 

This week's Missouri Valley Conference Baseball Player/Pitcher of the Week are Kevin Medrano of Missouri State and Nathan Forer of Southern Illinois.
Kevin Medrano, So., 2B, Missouri State
Kevin Medrano hit .706 in four games against 2009 NCAA Tournament teams and reached base 15 times in 20 plate appearances last week, going 12-for-17 with three doubles, five runs, two RBIs, three walks and a stolen base to help the Bears outscore the opposition 39-12. Defensively, Medrano was perfect in 19 chances while turning four double plays to add to his MVC leading 28 this season. He had a hit against 10 of the 12 pitchers he faced on the week. Medrano started the week by going 4-for-5 at Kansas, following that with a second consecutive four-hit game at Oral Roberts, scoring three runs and driving in another in a 4-for-5 effort. He reached base four more times Saturday, drawing a pair of walks and going 2-for-3 at the plate. Sunday, he went 2-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to nine games and raise his season batting average to .429.

Nathan Forer, Sr., RHP, Southern Illinois
Saluki senior right-handed pitcher Nathan Forer pitched his second game this season allowing no earned runs, as he picked up his first win of the year when he threw eight innings. He allowed just six hits in the 3-1 victory over Bradley on Saturday, April 3. Forer struck out four batters and only walked two of the 30 he faced. His eight innings thrown are the most by anyone on the Saluki pitching staff that has recently been dominating opponents and has a 2.18 team ERA in league play. Forer's strong outing lowered his already miniscule ERA down to 0.74 this year and in his three starts, he has only allowed one earned run.   

Noteworthy - In addition to the league's player and newcomer of the week selections, several conference players had notable performances, and they include:  

  • T.J. Roemmich (CU) - Roemmich recorded a 6-for-14 series against Indiana State this weekend, including a walk-off single in Sunday's game. Roemmich extended his streak of four straight (and eight of last nine) games with two his on Sunday.  Roemmich came a home run short of the series cycle, posting a double and a triple in Saturday's game. He finished the series .429 with three RBIs in three games.

  • Tom Heithoff (UE) - Heithoff paced Evansville offensively this week against league-leading Wichita State with a .667 average and three doubles in UE's three-game series against the Shockers.  Heithoff helped Evansville to an 11-6 victory over Wichita State on Friday night by going a perfect 3-for-3 with two doubles, two walks, a run scored and two RBI at the plate.  He also pounded out three base hits and scored a run in Saturday's 9-8 loss to the Shockers before working a pair of walks in Sunday's contest.  In the three-game series, Heithoff went 6-for-9 at the plate with three doubles, two runs scored and two RBI.  He posted a 1.000 slugging percentage and a .769 on-base percentage in the three-game series.

  • Matt Mirabal (ILS) - Mirabal had a hit in all four games Illinois State played last week to extend his hitting streak to eight games, the longest active streak on the team. The sophomore from Chicago led Illinois State with eight hits, including three doubles, and drove in a team-best five RBI. Mirabal drove in two runs in the Redbirds' 13-8 win over Illinois at Duffy Bass Field Tuesday and drove in three more, including the potential go-ahead run, in Saturday's extra-inning loss at Lipscomb. The Redbird catcher had one of his best all-around games in the series opener at Lipscomb, batting 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI, while also throwing out two attempted base stealers and picking off another at first base. Mirabal is second on the team and third in the Valley with a .417 batting average.        

  • Ryan Strausborger (INS) - After going 1-6 against Chicago State on Tuesday, Ryan Strausborger turned up the offense against Creighton this weekend, hitting .429 at the plate (6-14) with one double, triple and home run. In game one against Creighton, the Indiana State senior doubled on the first pitch he saw and tripled to begin a six-run rally in the eighth inning. In game two, Strausborger tied up the game with a two-run home run in the eighth inning, made a game-saving catch in deep center field to stop a Bluejay rally in the ninth and led off the 10th with a single and would come around to score to put ISU in front for good. On the season, Strausborger has totaled a team-leading 40 hits, with half going for extra bases.

  • Brock Harding (SIU) - Harding had six hits in 11 at-bats over the weekend and had three RBIs with no strikeouts. His RBI single in the bottom of the 15th inning gave Southern Illinois a 5-4 win over Bradley in the Friday marathon. He was the designated hitter again in the series finale against the Braves and he only managed to go a perfect 4-for-4 at the plate with a double and two RBIs. Harding is hitting .583 in eight games played in since March 23, has two game-winning hits in that time (including Friday's walk-off winner) and is .588 in four starts in MVC play.

  • Chris O'Brien (WSU) - O'Brien helped the Shockers to a series win at Evansville over the weekend.  He played in four games last week and hit .500 with six runs, one double, one home run, seven RBI and two walks along with a perfect fielding percentage behind the plate.  Against Tabor, he went 3-for-4 with four runs and a double.  In Saturday's win at UE, he went 2-for-4 with one run and an RBI.  In Sunday's win at UE, he went 2-for-5 with one run, a grand slam and a career-high five RBI.  

  • Keegan Dennis (UE) - Dennis picked up the victory in UE's 11-6 victory over nationally-ranked Wichita State on Friday night, as he limited the Shockers to just two runs on three base hits while striking out a season-high nine men in 6.2 innings of work.  After issuing a lead-off walk to begin the game, Dennis retired the next 10 men he faced in order, including recording five strikeouts through the first three innings.  He allowed just single runs in the fifth and seventh innings, and allowed just three men to advance past second base in the outing.  On the night, Dennis held the Shockers to a .143 average and left with UE holding a 7-2 lead over the Shockers to improve to 2-0 all-time against Wichita State.  

  • Brad Sorkin (ILS) - Sorkin, a freshman from Buffalo Grove, Ill., earned his second-consecutive, mid-week win over a Big Ten opponent as he limited Illinois to four hits over six innings Tuesday. Sorkin notched his second straight quality start after limiting Purdue to just one hit during the previous week. Sorkin didn't allow a base hit until the fourth inning of Tuesday's game against the Fighting Illini, and didn't allow the runs until the sixth.  The right-handed pitcher is 2-1 in six games for Illinois State and has the third-lowest ERA on the team at 3.68.   

  • Jacob Petricka (INS) - Petricka set the tone for the Sycamores against Creighton, tossing seven innings on Friday night while allowing just three Bluejay base hits. The Indiana State junior allowed just two runners on base (one single and one walk) over the first six innings at Rosenblatt Stadium, pitching to just one batter over the minimum through six frames. Petricka struck out five CU batters on Friday, pushing his season total to 43 strikeouts this season, tops in the Missouri Valley. 

  • Clay Murphy (MSU) - Murphy pitched seven innings in two relief appearances last week, allowing a grand total of two singles against Kansas and Oral Roberts, two teams that made NCAA Regionals last season.  Murphy took over in the second inning Wednesday at Kansas and allowed one hit over 4.1 frames with two strikeouts. The Bears trailed 6-0 when Murphy entered the game, and he kept the Jayhawks off the scoreboard through the sixth inning, allowing the offense to have a shot late in an eventual 7-6 loss. Saturday at ORU, Murphy pitched the final 2.2 innings and retired eight of the nine batters he faced with two more strikeouts in the MSU win. For the week, Murphy held the opposition to a .087 batting average and .192 on-base percentage.

  • Cobey Guy (WSU) - Guy made two relief appearances last week in two Shocker wins.  In the two appearances, he posted a 1-0 record with a 1.69 ERA and 12 strikeouts in just 5.1 innings.  On Wednesday against Tabor, he pitched two shutout innings and allowed just one hit and one walk while striking out a career-high six.  On Sunday at Evansville, he entered the game in the first inning due to an injury to the starting pitcher.  He pitched a career-high 3.1 innings and allowed just one run on one hit, while walking one and tying his career-high with six strikeouts.

Missouri Valley Conference Upcoming Schedule:

Tuesday, April 6
Indiana State at Butler, 2 PM
Southern Illinois at SEMO, 3 PM
Illinois at Bradley, 6 PM
Northern Illinois at Illinois State, 6 PM
Creighton at Nebraksa, 6:30 PM
Wichita State at Oklahoma State, 6:30 PM

Wednesday, April 7
Kansas at Creighton, 6:30 PM
Oklahoma State at Missouri State, 6:30 PM
Rogers State at Wichita State, 7 PM

Friday, April 9
*Illinois State at Creighton, 4 PM
*Missouri State at Bradley, 6 PM
*Southern Illinois at Wichita State, 6 PM
Indiana State at Citadel, 3 PM
Dallas Baptist at Evansville, 6 PM

Saturday, April 10
*Illinois State at Creighton, 2 PM
*Southern Illinois at Wichita State, 2 PM
*Missouri State at Bradley, 4 PM
Indiana State at Citadel, 1 PM
Dallas Baptist at Evansville, 2 PM

Sunday, April 11
*Illinois State at Creighton, 1 PM
*Missouri State at Bradley, 1 PM
*Southern Illinois at Wichita State, 1 PM
Indiana State at Citadel, 11 AM
Dallas Baptist at Evansville, 1 PM   
*MVC game